Kovalchuk Cap Casualties: How Do the Devils Get Under the Cap?
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The deal that seemingly took forever, is now complete. Ilya Kovalchuk is now signed to be a New Jersey Devil for the next 15 years. It only took the National Hockey League and Players Association to change the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to make it happen, but there's no need to relive the whole saga. Devils fans can celebrate knowing they will have Kovalchuk around to watch and admire his unique style of play.
However, now that Kovalchuk is in the fold, there is still a good amount of work left to do for General Manager Lou Lamoriello. The big question is, what what will the Devils do to get under the salary cap? After signing Kovalchuk to a deal that will cost the Devils $6,666,667 a season against the cap, what will the Devils need to do to shed the $3 - 4 million they need to (per Capgeek.com), to be under the cap for this season?
Let's take a look at some of the potential moves the Devils can look to make, and try to evaluate whether or not it is a realistic possibility.
1. Trade Brian Rolston
Could Brian Rolston be asked to waive his no-trade clause?
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The obvious answer is to say that the Devils should trade Rolston and his salary cap hit of $5.062 million. However, the task isn't quite that simple.
Rolston signed a 4-yr $20.25 million contract with the Devils on July 1, 2008, and it included a full no-trade clause. While I think its fair to say the last two seasons haven't likely lived up to the expectations Rolston had when he signed with the Devils, that also doesn't mean he would agree to leave either.
Rolston has had a little bit of bad luck in terms of injury in his second go around as a Devil. He also hasn't been completely awful, its just his production has not justified his salary.
If you halved his salary, you'd be very happy to him as a Devil. Also, his best assets are similar to Ilya Kovalchuk (shot, play point on power play, speed, etc), but not nearly at the same level as Rolston, meaning the need for Rolston diminishes with the return of Kovalchuk. If Rolston is going to stick around, he must revert back to his previous top penalty killer form, something the Devils have a large need to fill.
There are always family considerations that fans often overlook, and I believe Brian married a Jersey girl, meaning he wouldn't be likely to agree to move from the area, unless it was a situation that really seemed exceptional and offered a unique opportunity. I don't see a good fit out there, but I am sure Lou Lamoriello will at least explore the possibility.
One other long shot possibility with Rolston is for the Devils to consider exposing Rolston to re-entry waivers, meaning if he was claimed, the claiming team would take half of Rolston's salary cap hit with him.
Since Rolston was at least age 35 when he signed his contract, he cannot be waived to "lose his cap hit.". Therefore, the only way to remove his salary from the cap is to have him be traded. Even if he were to retire, the salary cap would remain for the Devils, making it that much more unlikely that Rolston will get moved.
2. Trade/Waive Bryce Salvador
Bryce Salvador may be looking at a new team for the upcoming season thanks to the salary cap situation of the Devils.
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The salary cap can be a tough thing to deal with, and the case of Bryce Salvador is a good example of this. Salvador is a tough, gritty defenseman who doesn't necessarily put up gaudy stats on the score sheet, but definitely comes to play every night, adding much needed toughness to the lineup and doing a lot of the dirty work a hockey team needs throughout a season.
Acquired by the Devils from St. Louis in return for Cam Janssen, Salvador has done just about anything one could have asked for, after re-signing with the Devils to a four-year extension. Unfortunately, the combination of his (two years left at) $2.9 million salary and some promising young (and cheaper) defense prospects likely spell the end of Salvador's tenure as a Devil.
I think a very likely scenario is for the Devils to move Salvador to a team that can use a player with a skill set, and has the salary cap available to fit him. The rumor mill had Dallas pursuing Salvador, but its always tough to believe rumors involving the Devils.
If Salvador is moved, he will surely be missed, but its unfortunate he would be a victim of the salary cap if the Devils are unable to move Brian Rolston, the most likely scenario is to then move Bryce Salvador.
3. Trade Dainius Zubrus
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Dainius Zubrus is a player the Devils brought in after the departure of Scott Gomez, and for whatever reason, Zubrus has often been unfairly compared to Gomez in his three years with the Devils, when in reality, they are two very different types of players.
Zubrus signed a six-year contract for $20 million, and while his stats line hasn't lived up to his salary cap hit, it isn't to say that Zubrus hasn't offered anything to the team. His unique combination of size and speed would not easily be replaced if he was sent away. He can play in just about any role in any situation and still be a productive player.
Last year, he played alongside Travis Zajac and Zach Parise and played probably his best hockey as a Devil, all be it in a small sample. He can play center or wing, but is probably more productive as a wing. He can also play a checking role if need be, and may take on more of that type of role if he sticks around.
I would like to see the Devils figure out a way to keep Zubrus around, but I am not certain, once again short of moving Brian Rolston, that the Devils will be able to do this. With the amount of salary cap space the Devils need to free up, the most likely scenario in my opinion is to shed both Dainius Zubrus and Bryce Salvador, which would open up about $6.3 million in salary cap space, and allow the Devils to fill out their roster.
4. Trade/waive Colin White
Colin White is likely to stay a Devil, but with the uncertainty of how the Devils will get under the cap, nothing is certain for players who are subject to either a trade and/or being waived.
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Colin White is an interesting Devil. He came up as a rookie near the end of the 1999-2000 season, and helped on the third defensive pairing en route to winning a Stanley Cup. The thought was he would develop into a potential replacement for Scott Stevens (although probably unfair...after all, no one can replace Scott Stevens). White took on more of a role for the Devils and was a big part of the team that won a Stanley Cup (his second) in 2003.
White also signed a six-year contract for $18 million before the 2006-07 and was expected to be the stay-at-home type anchor for the Devils defensive corps for many years to come. However, his fortunes changed significantly on September 19, 2007, when White deflected a shot in practice that went off his stick right up into his right eye and forever impacting his ability to see forever. There was a little time where it was unsure whether or not White would be able to return to the ice but that quickly came and gone. However, there has definitely been an impact on his on-ice effectiveness. Before the injury, White was on a track to be a well-above average player, but that trajectory has taken a much more dramatic turn towards being an average defenseman.
I do not blame White for this, but in the salary cap era, it can be debated whether or not he is truly worth a $3 million cap hit. His loyalty to the Devils is not something that can easily be questioned, so it is a very tough and delicate matter to consider when it comes to the thought of even thinking about shedding Colin White. He is certainly a dedicated teammate, displayed in the "controversy" surrounding then Head Coach Jacques Lemaire having White wear the "C" on his jersey for a game Captain Jamie Langenbrunner was a healthy scratch for this past April. White responded to nj.com by saying "I look up to Jamie. He is our leader,” White said. “I’ve always looked up to him and I’ve told him that. I don’t think our (team’s) leadership can be challenged.”
Colin White is also pretty close with Martin Brodeur, and they have been through a lot of ups and downs together. I would be very shocked if the Devils ended up shedding Colin White, I do not know how much more clear than that I can be.
Internet rumors aside, I don't expect either of those two players to have a new home this year.
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If you scour the blogs and message boards enough on the internet, you'll find all kinds of theories about which players should be sent packing.
However, guys like Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac aren't going anywhere. Players like Jamie Langenbrunner aren't very likely to be dealt either. I would say if I had to rank the chances of the three players, Langenbrunner would be the most likely of the three to be traded, but that isn't saying much.
A guy like Vladmir Zharkov could be ticketed for the AHL in lieu of a player making the minimum ($500,000), which would be a potential cap savings of $350,000. Also, a player like Anssi Salmela ($612,500) could be demoted or put on long-term IR (he currently is recovering from an ACL tear) in lieu of a player making less for some more additional savings.
There are a few options the Devils have to work through, but they are also severely limited by the following players who have No-Trade Clauses:
- Patrik Elias (No-movement clause)
- Brian Rolston
- Jason Arnott
- Jamie Langenbrunner
- Anton Volchenkov
- Colin White
- Martin Brodeur
- Johan Hedberg
ln addition, players like Henrik Tallinder, Hedberg, Volchenkov and Arnott were all recently acquired, meaning the likelihood of them being sent packing are basically non-existent.
Players like David Clarkson and Zach Parise also aren't going anywhere.
The most likely scenario in my opinion remains the scenario where Bryce Salvador is traded for a minimal return. That would roughly get the Devils to the cap limit, but would still leave the Devils with a need for three additional players. That is when I think Dainus Zubrus will be traded, creating about $3.4 million in space to be spent on potential players like Dean McAmmond or Mike Mottau to be brought in at or near the league minimum. Also, don't overlook potential rookies like Alexander Urbom, Jacob Josefson, Matthew Corrente, Nick Palmieri or Matt Taorimina to fill out the roster.
I don't envy the hard work Lou Lamoriello has ahead of him.
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